Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN), the parent company of Al Jazeera and AJ+, has launched an experimental platform for digital audio. Announced today (14 March), Kimchi encompasses a Facebook Messenger bot and a complementary iOS app that aim to improve the way people find, listen to and engage with podcasts and audio on social media.

Kimchi is the first step in the organisation's aim to make a larger move into this field and the findings and feedback from this product will help shape an upcoming AJMN brand dedicated to producing original audio content for millennials.

Moeed Ahmad, manager of innovation and research at Al Jazeera Media Network, said the new brand will have a dedicated team and it will "target the audience that lives on Facebook" and cover issues that are not necessarily being tackled by the broadcaster.

"It will be part of the network and we will likely leverage other Al Jazeera resources, but it will be an original brand, likely with its own product such as an app. We will also collaborate with different departments, for example working with AJ+ to produce audio content.

"We will use Kimchi to learn about the technology and to understand how people are listening [to audio], what type of content works, and we will also look at new distribution points such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home."

With Kimchi, the main focus is discovery – how do people find podcasts? Ahmad said people generally look for a specific link when they search for podcasts, but the Kimchi Messenger bot uses machine learning and interactivity to make it into a more conversational and tailored experience for listeners.

Currently, the Kimchi bot firsts asks users to pick their favourite topics, such as technology, politics or arts, before providing related podcast recommendations based on the iTunes API. Searching options include things like 'find NPR podcast', which will show all podcasts from NPR related to the user's chosen topics, or typing in the name of the topic, such as 'journalism' to receive suggestions from multiple podcast creators.

Screenshot of the Kimchi Facebook Messenger bot (left) and its player (right)

Once a listener has found their chosen episode, they can play it within Facebook Messenger, share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. However, there is also an option to open the episode in the Kimchi app, for a better listening experience, and Ahmad said this is why the app and the bot have been designed to work together. An Android version of the mobile app is also scheduled to be released in the near future.

"We understand that Facebook Messenger is not currently built for audio listening, it's not a very native experience so people would still prefer to have a native app to listen to podcasts."

Screenshot of Kimchi's iOS app player

Over the next few weeks, Kimchi will start to include recommendations based on audio transcriptions. Using the Google API to transcribe audio files and find keywords, the bot will be able to identify and suggest a podcast episode about Snapchat, for example, even if the name of the platform doesn't appear in the podcast's title or episode description.

"I have been a podcast listener for many years and I find that many times, I want to know if a particular host or podcast might have mentioned a topic I'm interested in, so with Kimchi, I'd ask 'can you find me something from X organisation discussing Y topic in the last year?'

"The question we had is 'how do we expect people to use it'? This is an experimental release, so we will use the feedback we get to shape the type of responses the app provides and the search experience over the next couple of months."

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